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2020-09-15 12:52:47   •   ID: 2203

Handaxes from the Azraq Basin in Jordan

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Figure 1-6 shows a limited surface Collection from the Azraq Basin in Jordan’s Eastern Desert. Regarding techno-typological considerations it may be 400-250 k.a.old.

You see white patinated Flint Handaxes up to 16 cm long and a large Levallois flake (Figure 5 and 6). The Handaxes are made both by hard and soft hammer technique.

They are oval, with a tranchet blow (Figures 1 and 2), lanceolated (Figure 3) and cordiform (Figure 4). The Lanceolate is backed - not unknown from other Acheulian sites from the Levant -see 1596 .

The Handaxes in Figure 1 and 2 resemble Bifacial Cleavers - which define a facies of the late Acheulian in the Azraq region, as emphasized by L. Copeland. Microtraceological studies demonstrated their use as Butchering tools.

Such tools are techno-typological very different from Flake-Cleavers, made from large Flakes which appeared early early in the African Acheulian-see here: 1216 and here: 1217 .

Among the oldest sites with flake cleavers yet found in the Near East are Gesher Benot Ya’aqov (GBY), at 0,78 My and Ubaydiyya at 1,4-1,2 My in the Jordan Valley.

Under natural conditions, the oasis supported reed and sedge communities restricted to Jordan and Azraq. Until recently, it was a valuable staging area for migrating birds and served as an important water supply for local communities, as well as the main water source for the capital city, Amman.

After WW II it became clear that unsustainable groundwater extraction led to the almost complete desertification of the oasis, also affecting the integrity of potential in-situ Archaeological sites.

Although a program for the physical rehabilitation was started, it failed and much Archaeological information was lost for ever.

Overall the Azraq Basin is known for its abundance of Stone Age occupations, which were associated with the presence of oases, marshes and paleolakes. During the Pleistocene these habitats served as refugia both for large animals and Homo sp.

Acheulian sites were largely associated with lakeshore environments in areas with East African flora and fauna in grassland savannas over much of the Pleistocene.

The Azraq basin was certainly connected with other oases and former lacustrine basins in the Syro-Arabian Desert. Lakes and spring-fed marshes existed on the eastern landscape of Jordan, from Mudawwara to the al-Jafr and Azraq basins, and northward to the el- Kowm Basin of Syria. These networks constituted crossroads for movements of Homo sp. between Africa and the Eurasian landmass and vice versa.

In consequence the archaeological sites in the Azraq Basin are spanning a long timeframe from the Acheulian, Levallois-Mousterian, Epipaleolithic (probably Kebaran or Geometric Kebaran) and the PPNB Neolithic phase - very similar to the El Kowm area in Syria.

Researchers working in Jordan traditionally described an Early, Middle and Late Acheulian. This classification is mostly based on surface findings and, as far as I am aware, has never explicitly explained. Especially the issue of a "Middle Acheulian" remains obscure.

In general the definition of older and younger ensembles is based on techno-typological considerations and on the material from the two sites in Israel, mentioned above. However, there is certainly some justification for the following classification, which separated an older from a more recent Acheulian:

  • Flat, thin, symmetric Handaxes are later than irregular, rough and trihedral handaxes


  • Early ensembles are often characterized by opportunistic cores, choppers and chopping tools


  • Handaxes, made by Hammer Techniques are earlier than Handaxes and the use of a Soft Hammer


  • The advent of the Levallois technique in Acheulian ensembles is late


There are numerous Acheulian sites sites in the Azraq Basin. The most prominent are: Lion Spring, 3-4, C-Spring, Azraq Shishan ("South Azraq"). Unfortunately no concise dating program could be performed during 50 yers of research, allthough some sites are multilayered and were only minimally disturbed with a "fresh" appearance of the Acheulian material.

If fauna was preserved, it did not help to establish more than a Middle Pleistocene age for the industries. The "late" C-Spring Acheulian is of special interest because up to 30% of the Bifaces were Bifacial Cleavers, a higher number than anywhere in the Old World Acheulian, especially in the Levant.

In summary, despite the many techno-typological studies, that have been published, the ESA of the the Azraq Basin, makes us painfully aware, that without progress in dating stratified sites with preservation of Archaeological structures and fauna remains allows only a very limited understanding of Early Paleolithic land use by our ancestors.

Acheulian in the Levant: see here: 1171 , here 2076 , here: 1460 , and here: 2068 ,